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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Getting Around in Today's World

An article in the BBC News tells of a satellite navigation navigation system called Glonass, that the Russians have had under development since before the Soviet Union dissolved but that they haven't managed to bring to a fully commercial state because of economic troubles in the meantime. Now they feel that it's only a matter of a short time before Glonass will be fully operational, fully compatible with GPS, and with one or two small advantages over GPS, mainly working better in the northern latitudes.

The GPS sounds like something I would definitely have, if I hadn't gotten settled in so thoroughly at home, but now I am more interested in what another article in BBC News had to say just yesterday, about finding one's way without the aid of any tech devices at all.

I have gotten adept at "shooting the sun," just by looking in its general direction and noting its height above the horizon and its intensity. But I use this skill not for navigation but for telling the time of day, and in that I am usually accurate to within 15 minutes -- good enough. And when I was moving around a lot in the greater world I always had a good sense of direction anyway, and I can't remember ever having been truly lost, whether while driving or on foot.

But if something were to throw me out willy-nilly on the highways and byways for a long distance, I would get a GPS device, just to be doing it, though I would still rely much more on maps.

I love maps and using them, and at one time I had fond dreams of being a cartographer. I wonder if maps are still being made and much in use. I wouldn't be surprised if they're not, though I know that in today's world, to make such assumptions is chancy.

The Glonass article speaks of how, during the Cold War, the Soviets deliberately made maps with big inaccuracies, out of fears of invasion. That's not only utterly crazy, but it's also unbelievably obscene. No wonder the U.S.S.R. was dissolved and, among a myriad of other things, thereby allowed GPS to get there well ahead of Glonass.

Who in their right minds would want to invade Russia anyway? During World War 2, the Germans proved the total folly of that for all time to come. And what would you end up with, in the very unlikely event that you succeeded? But I guess gross stupidity is one of the enduring legacies of human leadership. The Axis of 1941 thought they could improve on the French of 1812, and right now we can see the same sort of thing happening in Afghanistan, a dark spot in the geography where seemingly nothing is ever learned.

I wish the Russians well, though is it too obvious to say that, for commercial success, they badly need to change the name of their product? In the English-speaking world, the title "Glonass" would be much too prone to draw unseemly remarks. That's why, in the Babel of today's world, companies usually try to hire good translators before they even think of putting something on the global market. Or at least you would think that they would.


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